Tribeca Film Review: The Meddler (★★★)


meddlerTRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: An enjoyable dramedy that also puts forward the rare romantic subplot featuring actors not in their 20’s or 30’s, The Meddler has something a bit unique to offer the marketplace. One of the more crowd pleasing efforts I’ve seen at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, it works best as a vehicle for Susan Sarandon, but that’s hardly its only charm. The movie works both as look at how different members of a family deal with grief as well as loneliness, while also trafficking in low-key comedy and even a little bit of romance. Hell, we’ve got a bit of a “fish out of water” storyline here, so writer/director Lorene Scafaria is definitely packing a lot into something that might otherwise have just been a comedy. The Meddler doesn’t always work, but when it does, and that’s much more often than it doesn’t, it plays like one of the more charming Tribeca entries this year. The quick road it’s taking from festival to theaters is an odd one, but it gets Sarandon’s performance out to you sooner rather than later, so no complaints on my end. The Meddler is low-key female centric entertainment, but it’s doing business in an underrepresented medium and doing it was aplomb, so I have no trouble offering up my recommendation.

For New Yorker turned Los Angeleno Marnie Minervini (Sarandon), the year since her husband died has been a tough one. On the surface, she seems fine, happy-go-lucky and always eager to help, especially since she’s been left with a ton of money, but it hides a deep loneliness. Her outlet for this hole in her life has been to move westward to be closer to her writer daughter Lori (Rose Byrne). Marnie is way too involved in Lori’s life, which is kind of a mess after a breakup, on top of losing her father. When Lori figures out a way to get out from Marnie’s constant presence for a bit, the latter looks at it as a chance to start her life fresh. She begins helping everyone around her that she can, from returning the favor to the kid at the Apple Genius Bar she frequents to one of Lori’s friends (Cecily Strong). That’s still just what she’s been doing for the past year, so it isn’t until she meets retired cop Zipper (J.K. Simmons) that something new truly can begin for her. It’s a pretty basic plot, yes, but the cast does a good job to keep you from noticing, for the most part.

meddler_unit_2174.CR2This is one of the better performances that Susan Sarandon has put forward in some time. She’s clearly enjoying herself, putting on a somewhat broad East Coast New York/New Jersey type accent and getting to play someone older than usual. Sarandon is funny, for sure, but she’s also emotionally on point when you see her weaker moments. It’s also a delight to see her chemistry with J.K. Simmons, who is kind of doing his best Sam Elliott impersonation here, and I mean that as a compliment. When it’s Sarandon and Simmons on screen, The Meddler sings. Rose Byrne is a bit less effective, though the film does sometimes just plain forget about her. She’s got some fine moments, but Byrne is definitely in Sarandon’s shadow. In addition to the aforementioned Cecily Strong, the cast here also includes Jerrod Carmichael, Billy Magnussen, Michael McKean, Lucy Punch, Jason Ritter, Casey Wilson, and more.

Filmmaker Lorene Scafaria has made a movie that shares a lot with the work of Nancy Myers, but The Meddler feels less like middle aged mom porn and more like a simple good time at the theater. Her direction is simple, while the screenplay she’s penned has its fair share of touching moments. Comedy is first and foremost here, along with Sarandon’s performance, so when she’s trying to tickle your funny bone, things are plenty amusing. If there’s a noticeable issue in the film, it’s that money seems to just solve a ton of problems, and that’s fairly simplistic. It’s not a huge problem, but it did bug me a bit. I preferred Scafaria’s writing on Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and her directing on Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, but this is nearly as successful a flick as those two, so she’s three for three in my book, albeit with modest results overall.

It would be easy to nitpick The Meddler to death, but the good certainly outweighs the bad here, and especially with how underwhelming most Tribeca titles have been for me, I’m going to look on the bright side. If you want to see the lighter side of Sarandon and watch some romantic sparks between actors of a slightly advanced age, this is something to check out. It’s not a home run, but it’s a solid single, and that’s just fine sometimes. The Meddler is a crowd pleaser, so give it a shot and I suspect you’ll walk away more than satisfied.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!